Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sometimes poets complain about
other poets
dabblings in political commentary
or description
or analysis,
politics mars the poem. Often
these are the same poets
who extol the virtues of
Now, I’m a songwriter, I have nothing against craft,
craft is important; or, rather, it’s handy, as
a craftsperson has the chops to double as a handyman or -woman.
When writing a song, it’s handy to have craft
to fill in the cracks, if you want them filled,
to smooth away the joints, if you want them smoothed,
to trick out some backgroundwork
with some filigree,
to avoid an unenticingly boxy design.
But the craft is useless if you lack a good idea.
Whatever happened to dandy turns of phrase?
That’s what I want to know.
When a poet turns a phrase that worms into the texture
of my daily life, then I think, now that’s poetry.
Or, that’s a good turn of phrase,
that’s catchy.
Because it’s often not poets per se
go ahead and make my day.
Committed poets -- to which category I do not belong --
can no doubt quote all sorts of contemporary poets
whose phrases have wormed into their daily-life repertory,
but I can’t.
There are two or three living poets of whom I could say this,
that their stuff has changed my life,
and they’re old, they’ve been publishing for decades.
In the pre-modern era, that seemed to be one of a poet’s main jobs,
to turn dandy phrases for use in people’s lives.
The moderns did it too --
W. C. Williams, T. S. Eliot, even Gertrude Stein with her pigeons and roses,
Ezra Pound in his prose though not his poetry,
Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, E. E. Cummings, Carl Sandburg, others.
Frank O’Hara and Ted Berrigan for sure.
(I omit the names of the living.)
Is turning a catchy phrase a matter of craft, or idea?
A recent biography of Benjamin Franklin,
which I haven’t read
though I read a review
argues that a lot of Poor Richard’s maxims,
Franklin borrowed from common usage
or other authors
and tightened up, edited, made them pithy and catchy.
Clearly it’s a case of both craft and idea.
Now there’s no reason a poem on a politicized subject
couldn’t inspire catchy lines.
“An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying king” --
that has a certain zest and bite,
I quote it, with pleasure, without looking it up.
Percy Shelley wrote it about King George the Third,
the one the Americans rebelled against.
I wrote a batch of poems a few months ago
and was trying to remember today
if any catchy lines transpired
and I thought of one:
“To be in love with life and never to measure up,
not that any of us is unworthy
but that, at last, each of us is discarded.”
I’m probably misquoting.
I’m not there.
I’m not doing the indelibly catchy phrase thing.
Years ago I wrote a full-length play
which my friends and I produced.
It was an anarchist company
which gave each actor the right to rewrite
his or her lines.
Years later I met some people who had seen the play
and they quoted a catchy line from it
which I didn’t recognize
because I probably hadn’t written it!
The play was political, among other things.
This poem is too.
For months I tried to figure out how the mortgage meltdown happened.
The whole idea was based on bubble thinking,
that the buyer could always sell for a profit
if they were no longer able to pay the mortgage
because prices were seen to be rising forever
which is bubble thinking
and bubble thinking has never yet been right.
Lenders knew this.
Lenders knew that bubbles always burst.
And they knew that a lot of the borrowers would not
be able to repay their loans
because they were lending money without verifying income
or assets
or job history
or anything
just sign on the dotted line and get your loan.
Lenders knew this could only end in grief.
I know some nonprofit lenders and they were going bananas.
They knew it would end in disaster.
“How could a few of us in our little office on Rainier Avenue
know this would be a problem when nobody else did?”
The woman who said this was pissed. Disgusted.
(Rainier Avenue is the main thoroughfare
through the poor end of town.)
What I finally realized after thinking about it for months:
The lenders knew that it would be a problem
and they didn’t care.
They didn’t care because they didn’t have to.
They knew they would pay no consequence when everything crashed.
Sure, banks might close,
millions of home owners would lose their investment,
investors would get soaked,
whole industries would face massive layoffs,
but the lenders would have cashed their checks
and the people at the top, who signed off on it all,
would get filthy rich.
That has been Republican policy for decades:
Pave the way for the concentration of wealth
regardless of its effect on the “general welfare,”
to quote that quaint, dated, lovely phrase from the Constitution’s Preamble.
It’s hard to imagine recourse against the malefactor lenders.
Could the investors sue for malfeasance?
I don’t know.
Could the borrowers sue for lack of fiduciary scruples?
Probably not successfully.
The malefactors of great wealth aren’t even robber barons.
The malefactors of great wealth are robber regents.
They pay no consequence when they run the regency aground.
Barthes’s concept of the death of the author
has found its apotheosis in pluto-looto-cratic ideology.
The catastrophe’s authors have vanished from view.
The robber regents planned their murder of the economy to look like a suicide.

-- thanks BCM, whoever you are, and the bounty of the internet, for the image

Your description/explanation of the
"mortgage meltdown" is insightful
and instructive.
Thanks. I really don't know what to do about the situation. I also don't understand why banks aren't more willing to renegotiate loan terms, so that adjustable rate mortgages won't send more people into foreclosure.
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